Our guest on The Pointer PLATFORM was a three -time chairman of Bomadi Local Government and currently serves the government of Delta State as a Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government Affairs. He speaks with so much sincerity and lucidity on the current issues confronting our democratic evolution as a people. He holds very significant views on efforts at containing the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, the distribution of the lockdown palliatives, available options for a deeper entrenchment of true democratic values in our polity, the need to factor-in the interests of the ethnic nationalities in the subsisting power rotation arrangement in Delta State and of course Nigeria . Please join us in welcoming Hon, Kelly Penawou, a Prince of Bomadi Kingdom, to the podium as our guest on The POINTER PLATFORM.
One of the fallouts of the Coronavirus crisis across the globe has been some level of restiveness arising from hunger . While appreciating the efforts of the state government in building a food bank to help with palliatives, to what extent have these food items penetrated the grass roots?
The palliatives, so far ,have been properly distributed to the appropriate quarters. This is especially so because the items go through the various Local Government Councils from where they get to the wards and communities. The feedback so far has been on the positive side.
But again there appears to be something people do not understand. And that is the fact that palliatives are meant for people who are very poor. There are some others who can afford to stock up their homes with foodstuff and have done so.
These items are meant to go down to the villages, to homes where people cannot afford to buy food items, especially those who depend on daily earnings.
It is, therefore, entirely out of place when persons who are supposed to be contributing to the food bank are seen queuing up to fight for the palliatives.
Aside this, however, I must admit that the Chairmen across the various Local Government Areas are doing well with regards to distributing the items.
Being in the field as journalists affords us the responsibility of managing feedbacks and some of the feedbacks we have dwell on the fact that some persons charged with the duty of distributing these items do so along party lines; do you think such step is a right one?
I do not think that is in line with the Governor’s intention and if that is what people are doing, then it is not right. The Governor is the Governor of Delta State and is responsible for all Deltans, irrespective of party affiliations.
His intention borders on the fact that he wants to see everyone in need have something to support themselves with. Governor Okowa is not just the governor of PDP alone and it is expected that whatever is given reaches everyone as intended.
The lockdown itself is affecting everyone and is not selecting which part members should and who should not. In the same vein, items should get to everyone.
How would you evaluate the steps the governor h a s t a k e n thus far with issues of containing the virus, especially as it has to do with the lockdown as it stands today, given the extension?
I think the governor has done very well; he has proven himself as a governor with human sympathy. For him to have extended the lockdown, he has our interest at heart. As much as we feel the effect of the lockdown, he feels it as well; neither he nor his family is exempted from what we all feel.
The lockdown is a sacrifice we all have to make to avoid the incidence of uncontrolled death rate. In the bid to achieve a set goal, there is room for some level of sacrifice.
For instance, I head the Delta South Monitoring team charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the lockdown order by staying at home. That does not, however, mean that you cannot come out of your house to get an urgently needed item. But we are advocating that people do not just loiter around; they should heed the social distance rule.
It is quite understandable that you cannot successfully force people to remain at home behind closed doors because of a truth; people are bound to get hungry and would need to go out to get food.
Based on information available, it does seem that the number of persons who need these palliatives far out-weighs those who do not. Does this in any way affirm the global claims that Nigeria has become the world poverty headquarters and what does it say about leadership in Nigeria so far?
Our leaders obviously have missed it which has led us into taking several steps backwards rather than moving forward and situations have moved from being bad to worse.
I may not be able to dwell much on the national level but I can speak confidently about the state governor, who, based on my close interaction with him, has proven to bear the pain of the people.
He is a leader committed to seeing that the people benefit from his government, irrespective of their party affiliations. Through his actions, policies and programmes, we have seen that he truly wants the best for Deltans and has acted in that line.
The times are trying and we have seen well-meaning Nigerians, home and abroad, donating items to help alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians, especially at this period. We have also seen an increasing rate of people not seeing enough transparency in the way and manner the items are being distributed. What does this portend or say about our public conduct?
I see this as a huge problem because if as an individual, I am making a donation to an organization, I should be able to get feedback. We have heard of so many donations aimed at helping the vulnerable and it is expected that there should be a breakdown of how whatever is got is being spent.
We have a long lasting problem of lack of trust; as a nation, people do not trust us anymore and it is not in any way doing us good.
Given the outbreak of the Coronavirus and fallout on the need for the Federal Government to reach out to Nigerians with stimulus packages, it appeared we had a significant issue with accessing an accurate database of the nation’s citizens; what role does proper census and data collation play in all these?
Sincerely speaking, a proper census can hardly be achieved because we are not sincere with ourselves. We see a situation where families inflate the number of persons in their household for reasons best known to them.
Even at the point of voter’s registration, we have seen situations where leagues of under -aged children are registered as adults.
Actually, even though this may sound funny but the truth is that except God intervenes in the current state of our nation, there is no hope.
If we want to change Nigeria the way it is now,; it would take a drastic revolution that would, of course, entail a great level of sacrifice. If we must witness change, then we must be ready to step on toes.
Everybody wants to blow out their interest, even if you have one person you would say they are five; meanwhile, they are only one person or two who is in the house. Don’t tell me that figures presented are right. If you are coming to count my house and I tell you this is the number of persons I have in my house and you record it down, do you think that record is true? If we should bring back our voter’s cards, you will see that 90 per cent of those that own these cards are children. Time to vote you will see them lining up children, do you think that is real?. We don’t appear to want to get it right unless there is an attitude change or divine intervention.
And so, it is very painful when you see things like this happening. I know I am a politician but, I am surrounded by the grace of God as a politician. I don’t engage in what is commonly referred to as eye service neither do I consider blackmail as a pathway to rise.
I want to say the truth at all times. If you ask I want to tell you the truth. So, the truth of the matter is; I don’t see any hope except things will change radically and for things to change, somebody has to step on toes. There must be a huge sacrifice that must be paid and your life would be at stake for doing that. That is the truth.
If you want to change Nigeria right now, heads must roll. That is where Nigeria is today. There is no hope and I am sure not even in my generation except so violent a revolution that might require some spilling of blood for lasting lessons to be learnt.
Ghana had that problem. Do you remember “Ghana must Go”? They were all here. Their teachers, cobblers were all here in Nigeria because their case was so bad. But Rawlings came and changed all of that and as at today, their currency is higher than the Nigerian currency, they are more organized than us, they have light, they have everything but we don’t have. It is not by sitting and passing laws especially because even the people high up there don’t regulate the laws they pass. So, how do you expect it to work?
Are you foreseeing any economic danger ahead with respect to the current oil price?
It is already happening. If the oil price is less than $12 a barrel, then what do you think would happen? There is problem already here with us and is no longer looming.
We had governments in the past that had tried to prepare us for this, with the Delta without Oil Policy aimed at diversification. At what point did we drop the course?
Did we follow it holistically? Did the governor or government then pursue this thing religiously to the end? We can achieve that if there is commitment and determination. If the governors can come together and take a stand, that can be achieved. This is because if you look at the situation critically, the oil palm is more expensive than the crude oil. How much do you buy a little bottle of palm oil? Compare it with the crude and you realize that it is quite expensive. So, if we can look into some of these things that we can produce here and we stop unnecessary importations, we’ll definitely survive.
Now, oil is becoming a thing of the past and so nobody even wants to see your oil. But our people are acting so lazily, they just want quick money as a result of greed. They want to exhaust this oil before they consider diversifying to any order thing. Meanwhile,, this is the time as every other country is going into diversification but we are not doing that. We just believe the oil will be there to sell it out, make money then and come back and share among us. But no, it is way beyond that especially as we urgently need to take a stand on the path of economic diversification.
We have the people that can do this for us. We have the manpower, the resources, we have the environment and everything we need. Oil is not even the only natural resources we have in Nigeria. We have so many minerals in Nigeria that can boost our foreign exchange rate.
It seems Delta has achieved some level of relative stability politically, especially with respect to power shift. So, from Central, we have had a governor from the South and we now have a governor from the North. So it does appear that the three senatorial districts have been represented duly. Now, there is a need for continuity and some people are saying let us now go back and start from how it started while some others contest the stance. As a grassroots politician, what are you takes on this?
Now, honestly speaking, we have three senatorial districts in Delta State. But then again, we also have ethnic groups in the state. Are you saying it should go to the Central? Only the Urhobos are in the central. When you come to the South, we have the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko and the minute Urhobo. Then, going to the North, we have the Ndokwas, Kwale, Ika and Aniocha /Oshimili.
When Ibori was the Governor of Delta State, you can imagine what happened in his tenure. There was massive development and coming to the North, it has been wonderful. With Okowa’s pace, he is working so hard in the state. And I want to believe that if we are really talking about rotation, we should allow other ethnic groups come on board. Now, if you are saying it should go back to Central for eight years and after that to the South then the North, the way it is for now, it may not go down well with everyone.
But if we have to do things the right way, the first agreement is done but going forward, we need to restart it from somewhere. Like in the case of the osusu arrangement , if I had taken first in the first tranche, it means I would take last in the second round, that is the way the normal osusu operates So, I think the agitation is right because, today, with Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, we are done with the so called gentleman agreement.
Now, other tribes are saying no, we cannot follow that pattern because we are also part of this state and we also want to be there so that we can also have a positive impact on our people. If it is given to the Urhobos today, it will take a very long time before it gets back to us and we don’t want that to happen. We have done the first three districts, now let us discuss so that this thing can start from somewhere. If it starts from the south, can I come to you or maybe the central? And if it is going to an Itsekiri man or an Urhobo man or Isoko or Ijaw man, let us be assured that whoever takes it is from the south. But to wait for another 16 years, I don’t think Deltans would accept that. But at the end of the day, all I am saying is that power belongs to God.
You have had the privilege of three times serving your people at the local government level. Now, from your three times experience, how independent is DSIEC and to what extend are the local governments answerable to the people who were supposed to have elected them?
Well, the leaders are answerable to the people in some ways. Because if you don’t, you are not a good chairman and you cannot walk freely. You know you can’t stop the governor’s convoy and you cannot easily access him. But you can go to the chairman’s office or his house or anywhere and harass him anyhow. So, if you are not a good chairman, then you won’t have it easy with your people.
Your primary concern is the people first, their wellbeing and what you can give to alleviate the peoples’ suffering. That is why you are there. You are not there to add to their pains but you are there to make sure that you feel their pains and then you look for solutions to solve them. Give them hope and when they come to you, have an open door policy to receive them and hear their complaints. That is what you need to do to them and also know that there is no crime to do the needful. Give them listening ears even if you cannot fulfill all their hope at that time and let them feel happy when they are going back home. But if you shut them out and start complaining, it leads us back to where the grassroots is today. But if you are there with them from time to time, you won’t have the harassment but if you go to them only once in awhile, you will have them come to you and making a mess of you.
First, let’s start from the party angle, there should be proper primaries. One of the things I enjoyed most when I came from Lagos to contest for the governorship seat was the satisfaction of a free and fair election. At the end of the day when you win you know you have this satisfaction that you worked for it, but when it comes to you on a platter of gold, you will not value the victory and would not do the work you were called for.
Personally, I literarily worked myself out during my campaign you leave it just like that you don’t feel it, when I won my first election after a rigorous campaign, in fact I worked so hard, I mean I campaigned so hard, because we did the primaries in a primary school at Ibusa.
The next day was the primaries, the process was transparent and we all had signed an undertaking in which everybody agreed that whatever happens there when the winner emerges nobody would go to court because we had all signed. At the end of the day, when I emerged the winner, you can imagine the relief and joy I felt. I got back to my hotel, bought a bottle of Heineken, I didn’t drink it. I was so tired and so happy, that I slept off , and I slept all through the night and woke up the next morning at about 7 am, to see my bottle of Heineken standing in front at me, untouched.
There was this satisfaction in me and the fullness that I worked hard and deserved to win. But if you never worked to get a thing, you won’t appreciate it. That is politics for now.
My advocacy is that democracy should start from the parties; aspirants and candidates should go and campaign, Party leaders should not hand pick anyone. Like when they come to me and say, “leader, that I want to be Chairman, I say to them go and campaign’. I would set up a panel that would go into the primaries with you, if they conduct and you win, then you become my candidate, so don’t come to me telling me that you want to contest, I want to go an campaign and I would tell them go and do their underground work, go and meet your people go and present your manifesto, tell them what you want to do so if you at the end of the day win, you make it easier for me to now say this is my candidate and that is where I come in, but if I hand pick you there is going to be trouble as many people will insult me. Sometimes, when you want them to do something and they prove stubborn, they are avoiding the primaries; meanwhile I went through the primaries. At the end of the day when you have a deadline, and nobody is coming out, you can have somebody in mind that who is your candidate and work with him from behind the scene to ensure that person wins at the primaries, “I would only tell them this is my candidate you guys should work with him” that is leadership. So, when he goes to the field and wins, that is free and fair primaries. But if I don’t do that and come out to say this is my own, my dear,, they would fight and that man would fail. In every state, it is known that if I am in charge of local government, I will deliver Bomadi Local government to my party and if I am in control of DSEIC, do you think DESEIC would listen to anyone else? That is how the Federal structure controls INEC. Because they forcefully want to ensure that INEC do their bidding. Either by way of stagnating INEC financially or otherwise, that is why we don’t have proper democracy in Nigeria.
Where do you see yourself in 2023, what is your perception of the zoning and lastly how do you see Deltans contributing to the food bank so as to reach out to the vulnerable?
In response to your question on where I intend to be in 2023, I would say the year 2023 is still far from now, even though I believe that God would preserve us till then; the only thing that matters now, is the Okowa’s government which I belong to and I don’t wish to be distracted as any attempt to start doing politics could lead to falling out of the governor’s programme and doing your own programme. I am loyal to a man I love so much, whom I worked for and still work with. My duties is to ensure that those programmes of the governor are implemented at the grassroots level, that is why I am an adviser to him. I should not at this point be distracted on how I would have my own programme outside his programme. Before his election, I saw the hand of God with our governor; meanwhile some persons were pointing to the wrong persons as the governor,. At the end of the day it was not the will of man that prevailed but God’s will. If there is anything I desire of the Lord, it is sound health, God’s favour, God’s blessing, financial favour and God’s wisdom. As an individual, I don’t see myself as a big man but see everybody as equal with the understanding that where I am today is by the grace of God and, therefore, anybody can be there tomorrow. So, if I tell you this is my dream, yes everyone can dream but then you seek the face of God.
When you follow the plan of God for you, then you arrive safely,. In conclusion I would say that in all let the will of God be done. As regards the food bank, I would like to say that politicians and honourable members are coming out in their numbers to buy food stuff for their people, which I am aware is happening in all local government areas apart from the one the government is giving out in large amounts, some in thousands and others in millions to help them buy food. In answer to your question on zoning, I would say that it is only God that has power. When God says this is whom I want, you cannot upturn the will of God. It is indeed very pregnant but above all, power belongs to God.